Home > Illinois basketball > Self’s Jayhawks overpower Weber’s Illini: Now what?

Self’s Jayhawks overpower Weber’s Illini: Now what?

This time, Illini fans, you can’t question heart. This time, you can’t question toughness.

But you can question talent and execution.

An Illinois team known for whimpering away from fights gave its all during a 73-59 third round NCAA Tournament loss to Kansas on Sunday, but that wasn’t enough to beat the top-seeded Jayhawks.

Former UI coach Bill Self has constructed a juggernaut in Lawrence, advancing to his fourth Sweet 16 in five seasons. Illinois’ Bruce Weber departs the tournament with his first NCAA win (73-62 over UNLV on Friday) with a roster full of players he recruited, but a double-digit loss to his predecessor won’t silence the fans still yearning for the Self-built program.

Mike Davis (17 points, seven rebounds) and Mike Tisdale (13 points, 11 rebounds) were solid for ninth-seeded Illinois, but the Twins Morris (Markieff and Marcus) rammed through and leapt over Illini’s skinny posts for a combined 41 points and 24 rebounds.

Illinois (20-14) needed its one special player to be special to pull off the upset, and Kansas (34-2) knew it. The Jayhawks’ aggressive defense on Demetri McCamey frustrated and gassed the Illini point guard, who was held in single digits (six points on 2-for-9 shooting) for the first time since Purdue held him to four points on Feb. 13.

The Illini trailed for the final 38:34 but made it interesting, whittling the KU lead to four with 11:33 remaining and to five at the 6:44 mark.

Dreams ensued of the Illini getting through to the Sweet Sixteen as the highest seed remaining in the Southwest Regional – No. 12 Richmond, No. 11 VCU and No. 10 Virginia Tech advanced – but quickly faded during the last six-and-a-half minutes as the long jumpers from the Illini (38 percent shooting) continued to clank and the Jayhawks (52 percent) slammed the ball through the cylinder with three straight dunks during a 10-0 run.

The faster, stronger, more self-assured team won.

The Illini seniors – Bill Cole, Davis, McCamey and Tisdale – depart with a tournament win and pride knowing they gave it all in Tulsa, not always a given for the recruiting class of 2007.

But the questioning has just begun for Weber. Without the graduating foursome, his program enters the great unknown – a picture made murkier with the Tournament suspension of Big Ten All-Freshmen honoree Jereme Richmond for violation of team rules.

Entering his ninth season at Illinois, Weber might face his toughest task. He must replace four starters who account for 59 percent of his scoring including his top three scorers, find a leader with no returning seniors on the roster (Bradley transfer Sam Maniscalco will join the team this summer) and count on significant contributions from seldom-used underclassmen and four incoming freshmen.

Does he have the talent – three straight top-25 recruiting classes suggests he does – and can he mold that talent to execute his gameplan? All good questions to ponder until October.

Categories: Illinois basketball
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